CROWN POINT — Sheriff John Buncich is proclaiming his innocence to federal bribery charges.
It comes months after Lake County's top law enforcement officer retreated from public view after federal agents arrested him. He pleaded not guilty in a federal courtroom in Hammond and had maintained his silence until now.
The sheriff issued a written statement, through his defense attorney, Bryan Truitt, that, "I assure you that I am absolutely innocent."
"For those of you who know me and my 45 years in law enforcement, you know I would never compromise my integrity or professionalism and cannot be guilty of these charges. Trust that I would never sell my office, not for any amount," Buncich writes.
The sheriff states he waited to publicly address the issue because he had expected the U.S. attorney's office to drop the charges or a jury to have acquitted him by now.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Paul R. Cherry has continued Buncich's trial, at his defense lawyers' request, until Aug. 7. Buncich suggests other delays may take place as his lawyers analyze "the massive volume of material" the government may use against him.
Buncich said he wants to assure the public "the workings of the Lake County sheriff in all its capacities will remain ongoing in perfect working order. I look forward to my trial and the vindication that will come from it."
He states, "There have been no allegations that I have not performed exceptionally as sheriff, and I will continue to do so."
The government alleges Buncich used his position as sheriff to solicit and receive bribes between 2014 and last fall from towing firms wanting to do county police business.
Timothy Downs, who served as second-in-command to Buncich, already has pleaded guilty to federal allegations he collected towing firm kickbacks and is prepared to testify he did it under Buncich's orders.
The Lake County Council and Board of Commissioners are removing Buncich's authority to select towing firms for the county.